Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CSI Comes Second Not First!

Two simple but galvanizing strategies underpin both DCVB’s success as Durham’s destination marketing agency over the past 20 years and its ability to leapfrog much more established competitors.

  • One, information-based decision making and performance measurement.

  • The other, systemic adaptation and deployment of technology.

Both were rare as strategies 20 years ago, here or elsewhere in North Carolina, or in destination marketing circles world-wide. They are still far from prevalent today, although they get more lip service now. But frankly it is to DCVB's and Durham’s benefit that they aren’t widely used.

We needed something that would give Durham a strategic advantage. “Me too” marketing would have just meant taking a place in line and we needed to leapfrog destinations far better funded and years ahead of us in pounding position into the marketplace.

The credit goes to Alaska and my exposure there during most of a decade at the tiller of the destination marketing organization in Anchorage. All I did was deploy those overarching strategies to anchor the jump-start DMO in Durham.

Alaska was then in only its 20th year of statehood (it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.) From territorial days, Alaska has been an early adopter of nearly every new technology and definitely on the frontier in more than one sense. It was also critical in Alaska, where travelers had to be drawn over longer distances at greater cost, to utilize research and database decision making versus so-called conventional wisdom, which isn’t really wisdom at all but an excuse to avoid critical thinking.

Applying technology should be a no-brainer these days but I’m constantly amazed at how few organizations do…or if they do, it isn’t systemic or strategic. Not empowering people with technology today is like arguing not everyone should have access to a pencil.

It wasn’t easy back then. Twenty years ago in many places, fax technology was still novel, let alone implementing a local area network and internal email. The technology though made every staff member far more productive, faster and smarter. Internal email helped embed collaboration faster and deeper, as well as better enable project management which is half of any job.

Along came the internet and we were ready to fly…while others still had a single computer in the corner available only to a few people or perhaps lacked the skill and inclination to shift gears. And now mobile technology puts one in every hand but most still just use it for email.

In Alaska, necessity taught me how to base decisions on research rather than purely on “CSI”… (common sense and instinct (or intuition.) I use a fair amount of CSI, as we all do, I just try to have mine informed by data.

Of course, people who are threatened by information and data claim they rely on common sense and instinct. But that immediately raises the question of who is the arbiter of “common sense” or which “instinct” is accurate? Often people who object to data, prefer to rely on politics or force of wills.

I guess if you don’t have fiduciary responsibility or if it’s your money at stake, it probably doesn’t matter. But in community marketing, where nearly every stakeholder has a unique take on common sense and so called “instinct”, relying on these alone without informing them with data is extremely risky.

There are three core reasons that greatly favor information-based decision making and just as important information-based performance measures.

  • First, it leads to much better, quicker and more targeted decisions.

  • Second, destination marketing is about the customer and community not me or any other one individual.

  • Third, it leads to steady, long term strategic thinking vs. the constant knee jerk, 180’s that come with basing decisions on force of will, anecdotal opinion and politics.

So now you know. DCVB’s success isn’t anchored in anything genius or even that visionary. I just happened to fall into the right background in the years prior to finding myself in the right place at the right time. Durham, North Carolina.

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